Congo bars, adapted from Terry Walters’ Eat Clean Live Well

Today, as I cooked and then, while I cleaned the kitchen, wrote this blog post, and still now, when I’m getting ready to walk to a friend’stulips house for dinner, it rained. Steady, relentless rain. For hours. It could so easily be depressing. Many days that’s what would happen. I would permit myself to be ruled in a negative way by something completely out of my control. But today, in addition to supporting the Spring’s new growth, I somehow managed to use the rain as fuel to reinforce all the things in my life that seem right: this morning’s an amazingly deep yoga practice with several people I love a lot; preparing to teach my first public group yoga class on Monday; my sweet cat asleep on the couch, still Benalive and reasonably healthy despite being just a few weeks away from turning 17 years old; the coziness of my apartment; a perfect mix of music that included this song, which has been playing in my head ever since I saw Morgan Geer’s Drunken Prayer open for Freakwater this past March and which I don’t own; and being awake to the luxury of this time alone, being in my home, cooking, and appreciating all that I have instead of focusing on what is not. I’m not sure why the rain was uplifting today instead of being depressing, if this is just grace or if it’s the result of a decision I made yesterday to be happy even if it wasn’t coming naturally. Probably both. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. With so much gratitude for all that I have, including the ability to choose happiness and have it work.

Congo barsI don’t suppose I can compare all of that to these Congo bars. Or maybe I can. They’re quite special. And while I don’t suppose any dessert that tastes this good will ever qualify as being actively healthy, this one comes damn close, especially when compared to other sweets. If you try the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. And, if you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. It’s best eaten warm but cold is good too.

Congo Bars, adapted from Terry Walters’s Eat Clean Live Well

1/2 t. virgin coconut oil
1 c. teff flour
1 c. almond flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. natural applesauce (I use the single-serving containers)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. cashew or sunflower butter
2 t. high-quality vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350; use 1/4 t. coconut oil to grease a square baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the applesauce, maple syrup, honey, nut butter, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Mix in the nuts and coconut. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, smooth the top, and draw four long trenches across the batter.

Melt the chocolate and remaining 1/4 t. coconut oil in a small pot, either on the stove or in the oven, being careful not to let it burn. Once the chocolate has melted pour it into each of the four trenches. Use a table knife to create a swirl (or, like mine, swirls and a splotch) across the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

If you can manage to wait, allow the pan to cool for at least a half hour before you dig in. The bars are delicate and likely won’t hold together if they’re too warm. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt.

Enjoy!

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First cup of coffee after yoga teacher training

Today, shortly, I will head to the yoga studio for the last two days of yoga teacher training. Yesterday was the last day with Ana Forrest but we still have the business class. I meant to go to open practice, do some yoga. But instead I decided to sleep in and have coffee, my first cup since training began. Then I decided to write this meandering post, which has absolutely nothing to do with beans. In fact I’m not sure it has to do with anything. Except how much I’m enjoying this cup of coffee. coffeeIts richness and depth, and the jittery feeling spreading through my body right now. The container of time it helped me build this morning during which I get to listen to the wind blow through trees outside the windows as I watch a sea of green against storm gray sky, undulating and speaking some language that I understand with every part of my body, my body that is so much more awake now than it was the last time I wrote here.

During training, the man I’ve been dating for the past two years left my life, at least for now. I’m doing my best to trust that it is what is supposed to be, that we each learned what we needed to learn from the other. To practice gratitude for feeling as loved as he made me feel. But every morning and every night, right now, tears pour from my eyes, down cheeks. My stomach heaves with the tears that I don’t yet know how to shed. I’m so very sad.

In training I realized how hard I am, how many layers I’ve built between myself and the world. I learned that my mode of dealing with life is to tighten my body, squeeze, constrict. I learned that my default answer is no. I learned that underneath my holding I am absolutely terrified. I also learned, however, that I want to say yes. Yes to whatever comes, whatever life has in store.

I hoped yoga training would show me how to let go. Instead it showed me how desperately I hold on. And that it is up to me to figure out how to live to my highest potential. That no one else can do that for me.

I’m not sure how I start. So I will breathe. Doing my best to trust that there is a place for me in this great web of a world in which I so frequently feel I do not belong. I will post this terrifyingly honest blog entry that has nothing to do with beans or anything at all except me. The beginning of what I hope will prove to be true strength, my developing warrior heart. Thank you, Ana Forrest, and everyone in the Forrest tribe. I am grateful for your welcome.

Boston Baked Beans

Once again, it’s been a very long time since my last post. Dreamsofmyfava is languishing. Yet I am thriving. Living. Slowly learning how to be in the world more fully as I am. Which maybe isn’t the same as being the person I wish I was or could be. It’s all very interesting. At least to me. I’ve also been very busy with big projects at work. Indeed, I think maybe all my energy for writing has been directed there. So that I’m now writing this blog post only because on Friday I finally finished the reply brief in a really big case I’ve spent huge amounts of time and energy on in the past year and won’t start work on a new case until Monday. Mental space is crucial.

view from the gazebo at Pete and Anna's cabinBut this post is meant to be about Boston Baked Beans, which I made yesterday. I was inspired by my recent trip to New England. I was there last weekend to visit a dear friend and her husband, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We spent a little time in Cambridge, but mostly we were in their family’s cabin in New Hampshire.

The cabin has no electricity or running water. Which maybe sounds terrible. But instead it was lovely. I’d been there once before, for their wedding several years ago. This time was different, though, because it was just the three of us and their dog, surrounded by and immersed in nature. And probably because I am so different now from how I was then.

My friend’s parents built the cabin thirty years ago, and have gradually added a million thoughtful details. Like this handletree handle on the screen door to the gazebo. Or the handwashing station next to the outhouse, which I didn’t photograph. So you’ll have to trust my words to convince you that it somehow managed to be more luxurious than any bathroom I’ve ever visited. An outhouse that smelled of wood and air.

I guess it smells of wood and air because there are trees everywhere and not much else. Except a few large stones, because the area was formed by glaciers.

As for the man-made aspects, another standout, which I again failed to document, was the garden, where one could easily get lost in meditation while ostensibly choosing and picking herbs and leaves for sandwiches, salads, eggs.

The cabin itself seems to have arisen organically, as if it was grown rather than built. Because there are so many considerate touches. Like the candleholders that are placed here and there and everywhere, so that they’re just where you want them, including one with a handle, and others that have been mounted to the wall in the back bedroom where I slept. That bedroom also held a basin so I was able to wash up a little inside just before bed and in the morning.

More extensive wash ups come with swimming outside in “The Pond,” which is apparently the New England word for “lake.” Whatever you called it, this pure body of water is deep and cold and still. Diving in you feel completely alive. And somehow extra clean.

Pone in the morningI think it was the lack of electricity that rendered the world of the cabin so special, so healing. My breath was deeper, like the way it is after yoga before I emerge into the clamor of city during days here in my normal life. Such a contrast from the cabin, where I felt like I could hear everything inside and out, uninterrupted by the noise I’ve become so accustomed to in Chicago. It was amazing. At one point, I even imagined I heard the trees speaking, not in words but with unmistakable meaning. Clear, direct communication.

During this moment when I believed I heard the trees speaking to me, my friend and I were in the gazebo. It had just rained, was raining, with alternating bouts of gusty wind and soft, barely audible patters. I was attuning her to Reiki, level one. (Because I’m a Reiki master now. Which is pretty cool.) I felt a deep sense of connectedness, with the trees and the stones and the rain and the gazebo and also with my friend, her husband, their dog, everything as one. And suddenly the trees were sending this message about how much they cared about my friend’s well being, recognizing her goodness, her beauty, the feeling they had of her belonging there, with the family, in that place. The trees were expressing their support for what we were doing. Which is cool. Because the trees are such a big part of everything there. It view from gazebofelt good to know or at least believe that we had their support and what felt like their love.

Now, writing this, I fear that maybe I sound a little crazy. Or, at best, eccentric. Whimsical. Like my imagination has gone overboard. Which very well may be true. But what I realize now too is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that feeling. Because the feeling, whether objectively true or not, creates an opening. And with that open heart I allow the world to come in. Then, in that opening, I’m able to come out of myself with a deep faith that things are ultimately good.

Which brings me to the recipe. Finally.

Boston Baked BeansFor a long time baked beans were the only kind of beans that I liked, especially the kind that came in a can with heavy, syrupy sweet good sauce and awful chunks of fatty salt pork that I would fish out and cast to the side. As a kid growing up in the South I would doctor cans of Campbells beans by adding dijon mustard, brown sugar, and a little ketchup, then I’d bake them until the sauce was thick and bubbling. I liked to scoop them up with potato chips as a side for burgers.

When I was married my then-husband and I graduated to Bush’s baked beans, which tasted without doctoring similar to those beans of my childhood. I ate them the same way, scooped up with chips. Although he preferred plain Lays to my beloved Ruffles. The consequence of his strong personality and definitive taste combined with my insecurities was that I, too, learned to prefer plain Lays. (Now that I’m divorced I like both. Chips, which are gluten-free, may be my worst vice.)

Nowadays, when I’m trying to avoid anything with refined sugar, I eat almost no processed food. (Except chips. Damn chips.) This means I no longer buy any kind of canned baked beans. But I still love them. So, when we stopped at Calef’s County Store on the way home from the cabin, I was super excited to see these beans.Calef's Beans Then, last Sunday, lying in the guest bed in quiet, quiet Cambridge, I searched my friend’s extensive cookbook collection for baked bean recipes. And I decided on this one, an adaption from Slow Cooker Revolution. It took a really long time and wound up having to finish in the oven. But the flavor is perfect. I recommend.

Boston Baked Beans

2 oz. diced bacon
1 onion, minced
4-1/2 cups water
1 pound (2-1/2 cups) dried navy beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup molasses (I used blackstrap but recipe calls for mild)
1/4 cup maple syrup (subbed for brown sugar)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 Tb cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

If using the oven, preheat to 350. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer them to the slow cooker insert or a dutch oven. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the fat has rendered. Add the onion and cook another five minutes or so, adding the mustard and cloves for the last minute. Add the onion mixture, molasses, maple syrup, and bay leaves to the beans. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for ten hours, or on high for seven hours. If using the oven, cover and cook for a couple of hours. Check occasionally and add water to cover if necessary. When the beans are soft, add a teaspoon or so of coarse sea or kosher salt. Stir and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and bubbling, and the beans are tender but not mushy. I wound up using the oven to finish because the sauce didn’t thicken in the slow cooker. But I will try again. If you try this out, please let me know how it goes. And good luck!

Slow cooked ragu with pork ribs and white beans

kitchenThis is my next to last day in the condo I’ve lived in for the past ten years. Here’s the partially dismantled kitchen, with my beloved, giant refrigerator/freezer. My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I bought the condo just before we married, which makes the move complicated and fraught with feeling. So many hopes and dreams are bound up in this place. At first I found myself incapable of packing, paralyzed. Thankfully my friends rescued me. Now, the day before my move, I’m still not ready. But I will be.

Last weekend, while we were packing, one of my friends recounted the David Sedaris story about his brief stint working for a small moving company. When they showed up for a job, the movers found the client in the kitchen, cooking pasta, having packed absolutely nothing. Ha! So funny. So not any of us, we laughed. We continued packing, my friends efficiently, me sporadically, safe and secure in the knowledge that I would be ready when the movers arrived. But later that night, after my friends had gone home, I started thinking about that story, this time empathizing with that girl.

Until then, I’m not sure I was capable of empathy in this situation. I’ve always been a person who does what needs doing.  Absolutely not the person who lies around waiting for someone else to take care of her, oblivious. Cooking pasta while your belongings remain strewn about your apartment? That would never be me. Because such behavior would be inconsiderate, rude, wasteful. Crazy. I definitely have my crazy side, but historically it has never manifested as an inability to act. At least not in my adult life.

No. My crazy has always been too much action. When in doubt, do, that’s my motto.

Until now.

Now, suddenly, when faced with this huge change, one that I’ve known about for months, I’ve somehow emerged into this new form in which I’m incapable of acting on my own, without help. It’s absolutely terrifying. Yet, in some strange way, also liberating. Because, somehow, I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from people other than my family. Which is kind’ve amazing. It is a gift of intimacy and friendship that before now I’ve mostly seen only from the giving side. Yet receiving is just as important. It allows for others to express their generosity, their love.

On my way to recognizing this gift of receiving, I started to see that maybe the girl in David Sedaris’s story refused to pack her belongings not because she was lazy, or selfish, or inconsiderate, but because she was simply incapable of doing what she was supposed to do. I saw that because I could see it in myself. I didn’t know where to start with packing. And then I felt guilty. So I used avoidance techniques like television. Or sleep. Until my friends came over and saved me. Then, after they left, I felt capable of taking on surmountable tasks. Familiar, known tasks that I can control, things that I know how to start and finish them, by yourself. I understand this now because that morning, once I decided to cook, I lost the lethargy, felt like myself, relatively calm and in control. The contrast was illuminating.

I started by looking in the freezer. Most of what was left–various flours and other dried goods–can be moved. But I still had the ribs from my hog butchering adventure in February, as well as pork stock that I made from the rib roast. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/24/inspiration-and-bacon-from-the-underground-food-collective/) I had initially planned to do something with just the ribs. But, while I’ve never made ribs and white beans before, I had seen recipes. And it seemed like the most practical option: and easy, nutritious (if not exactly healthy), one-pot meal that I could eat all week.

In normal circumstances, this is the point where I would spend some time with my cookbook collection. I’m old-fashioned like that. I love nothing better than to lie in bed, reading about food, and then fall asleep daydreaming about individual recipes, food combinations, and menus. This time, though,  I had no cookbooks, because they were the first things to get packed. And I didn’t really have a lot of time, because I’ve been weirdly exhausted. So, after a quick online search to get a general idea, I decided to wing it.

ragu with pork ribs and white beansWhat I wound up with is not at all what I planned. It far too much tomato for a one-pot meal. But what I wound up with is a terrific ragu sauce over pasta, hearty and satisfying. I will definitely make it again. Here’s what I did.

1 lb. pork ribs, cut into 3-rib sections
1 c. dried white beans (I’m using navy beans, but any white beans will be fine), soaked overnight
1 sm. onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
3 c. chicken or pork broth
1/2 c. red wine (optional–I had some in the freezer)
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed (or diced) tomatoes
1-3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (sea vegetable, for digestion)
pasta

1. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Rinse and dry the ribs. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the ribs until brown, 3-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to the slow cooker, on top of the beans.

3. Add additional olive oil to the skillet if necessary. Saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute for another3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste. Saute for another minute or two, stirring. Then add 1/2 cup of red wine or broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any browned bits, and turn the heat to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and remaining broth, cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the beans are tender. Fish out the bones and the kombu, and salt to taste.

4. Boil pasta, drain, and top with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.